About Us

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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Brian & Deya met in Vancouver Canada. After a few years together we were married and made choices. One was not to have children the other was not to take life for granted. The rest is yet to come.

January 19, 2012

Viva Cuba Libre – Learning Curve

(Due to slow and expensive Internet, pictures and video will be added once we are off the island, Thanks)

We arrived in Varadero the day before my parents were supposed to arrive. Varadero seems to be a Canadian hot spot which is more likely to do with the Canadian travel agencies than anything else. Since most Canadians don’t have more than a week or two vacation during winter they probably want to hang out on a nice beach and not worry about much. This sounds like an easy sell and from the folks we have talked to and the experience we have had this is a case of unfortunate tourism. I can just imagine that the options to explore Cuba are not even given to Canadians since there are much better and cheaper options available.

Our initial intention was to book ourselves into the resort so that we could spend the time with my parents, my brother and his wife. Originally we had quoted a price from Colombia but could not reserve because we simply didn’t know for sure when we would get there. Having spent the better part of a week in various Customs’ offices was a concern. Despite that, we were fairly diligent but by the time we got to Havana and contacted the travel agency the price had more than tripled to 360 CUC a night! NO WAY. We asked how much for a day pass, thinking that we could at least spend some days at the resort with the family. The quote was 25 CUC per person for 8 hours of hanging out. When we finally got to Varadero the price had doubled?! We talked to the Commercial manager and he said the best price to stay there he could get us was 139 CUC per night for the two of us.

We agreed with the manager since the purpose of trying to get to Varadero was to visit my family and it seemed to be slipping away. We were told to come back the next day to pay for the nights. The next day we came back at the prescribed time and were told they hadn’t got around to making up the bill and to come back the next day in the morning. We arrived the next day to settle the deal and were told that because we didn’t get it the day before it was now considered ‘peak season’ and the price had doubled! I wont go into the explicatives or the frustration and retarded conversations that we had to endure and overhear from the staff and management there, but you can imagine that an event that came to this conclusion after 6 days of significant effort was so frustrating.

The route to Varadero was pretty good as far as riding goes though when we got to the toll booth, which we didn’t know existed, we had no funds in CUC to pay. Despite having Cuban plates and not a tourist plate, one look at us assured that we had to pay extra. They went from 10 Cuban Pesos to 2 CUC each. It’s not a lot but we asked the cops nearby and they could not understand why we were getting the shaft but told us there was a way around the booth. We ended up taking the old route which was primitive and mostly dirt. Fantastic road, was better that the asphalt and put us right in front of the marina. We had already arranged a ‘Casa Particular’ and then engaged the resort to no avail.

Since there was no staying at the Arenas Blancas or Solymar resorts with my family we made a reservation at another Casa Particular for the second part of the holidays. Casas Particulares, as you might recall, are home owners who rent rooms out to people. Our reservation was a let down as the owner never honoured it. We ended up at another place that was under construction at the time but we accepted on the promise that the construction would be done the next day. This turned into a debacle and found ourselves strung along for four nights, until finally on our evening walk back we found we had been ejected in favour of others who were now enjoying a quiet place with no more construction, they had offered a higher price.

After some drama to which I hate to participate, we left; it was late and there would be almost no places available during this peak holiday season. The result was pitching the tent on the beautiful beaches of Varadero. As the story goes, “It was a long and stormy night…” but after the trauma Deya had slept like a baby and the next day turned everything around for us. We found a really nice place with super people and were able to enjoy the days and evenings with my family outside of the resort.

In the resort the service sucks, I’m not being bitter it just really does suck. Deya and I would go and sit near the reception desk waiting for my folks to come down to great us and we would hear no end of the customers complaining because of any number of easily fixable or resolvable situations. To which the response in most cases was, “It’s not my job; It’s the State’s problem not mine; etcetera.”

One example was getting Internet access; you have to buy a ticket which is similar to a calling card and its good for one hour intervals. The worker in charge of the Internet cafe at the resort didn’t have any available and when the worker was asked by a good many customers she would exclaim that she didn’t have any. Of course silly tourists would probe about when she would have more available and she would only say, “I don’t know when we get them it’s the manager’s responsibility and he’s not available”. Well it would seem he had been sold out as well. Further drilling reveals that the manager has to call the service provider for new inventory of cards and that since the staffer is not considered competent enough to do it herself that it’s the boss’ job. But since the boss doesn’t work at this station and the staffer is ‘not responsible’ then she never notifies the boss and he has to find out on his own when they are short in cards. Once Deya found the boss (about three minutes of looking) the cards were called in and delivered within an hour. Apathy, stupidity, complacency, incompetence and narrow mindedness; all behaviours we would see repeated over and over again without surrender or pause as we traveled Cuba.

We had a good time with my family in Varadero and had a couple side trips to Havana with them. We like Havana ourselves and were able to at least show some of the good things about Cuba and its people. Though the resorts can’t seem to prove it, Cubans can actually produce very nice food and the rum is fantastic but you have to stay with a family to know this. On one occasion when we went to the market to get some beans we saw another BMW painted in the Cuban colours. We stopped to find a Swiss guy named Thomas and his cohort Tony from Canada. We had a nice chat and collected a bit of information from him. We also spent a bit of time with two other Canadians (Varadero is full of them) named Terry and Twila, also motorcycle riders. We had a great time with them and hope to see them again either here or back home.

Once we departed from Varadero our route would be zigzagging West towards the tip of Cuba. The roads were a mix from poor to good and the scenery was not dissimilar. Farm land always seem nice to me and the short mountains with their twisty roads are a nice reprise from the hot flat coastal roads. We stayed a night in a non touristic town of Artemisa and rented a room. Since there are no tourists here the room was for locals and amount to what I like to call a boom-boom room evidenced by the room next door and all the uh-huhs and oh-yahs going on in repetition for precisely 3 minutes 18 seconds ;-). Turns out that the family homes all have lots of family around and if a couple want some privacy they have to pay for it. It’s a small island after all and it seems everyone knows what everyone else is doing. The spy network here are the busybodies hanging around gossiping.

It’s an interesting thing that Cubans don’t seem to ask too many questions but if you’ll listen, or just stand there, they’ll tell you everything. Some are, I’m sure, able to breathe in through their noses whilst speaking at length. I jest but with the taint of sarcasm for the situation. The irony here is that it seems nearly impossible to make a Cuban friend. I’ll explain shortly.

The route to the West end of the island was long and somehow boring, though the scenery was nice. At one point the road is blocked by a checkpoint. Authorization is required but easily had by the main office near the shore. A Tourist Info Centre has a nice and helpful group to guide you to what you may need. We journeyed to the end and found a marina and a hotel (75 CUC per night). We enquired about shipping the bikes to Mexico but it didn’t seem feasible so we left our info and carried on. It was late enough and a long enough route that we needed to camp. The route would be perilous at night with animals and who knows what else.

We stayed on a beautiful virgin (National Park) beach, just us and plethora of bugs. We now have more numerous bites on us than even in Costa Rica. Despite that, imagine sitting on a white sand beach, aqua blue water lapping against the beach leading into deep blue. A few stars are visible as the sun sets over the water, red, orange and warm; a cup of 7 Year Old Havana Club and a beautiful spouse sitting quietly next to you absorbing the scene, all alone… wonderful. The night however would be full of disturbances, bug bites and wild pigs all digging in for what food they could find.

At some point we made it to a town called Viñales and met a family of farmers. They were of the most interesting sort we had met and had intelligent questions and opinions of all kinds. I wish we had had more time to really converse about such political and cultural topics as they were bringing them up. It happened that their daughter was having a fifteen years birthday party, coming of age kind of thing. We were invited and got to be present for the slaughter of the pigs. (Video) The food and party was primitive and fantastic, the kind of event that I enjoy.

I want to give my state of mind right now, considering all that we’ve been through and the simple duration of our travel. I’m feeling a little tired and impatient with Cuban people. I’ve heard it said that it’s a country of contradictions and it certainly is. You meet fantastic people then step two paces and find a bunch of vultures. Not that vultures are bad but maybe you don’t feel just yet like you are dead carrion. It seems, and every foreigner we’ve met has stated clearly the same, that people here don’t seem friendly only as in so much that they think they’re about to get something from you.

One more aggressive example is that knowing a fellow for less than two hours, in that time we were invited to his place where he utterly disrespected our personal property as though it was his, he made requests that were insensitive to our standards and began arranging a christening of his children so that we could be the God Parents to his kids. While there are too many details to mention these constant kind of attempts to get anything from you occur persistently and it’s tiring to me. The constant question of ‘how much did you pay for the bikes’ is not new to us but the question in Cuba comes from people who live a comfortable life and make 30 bucks a month. If you tell them that personal answer, they usually come with looks and stupid questions about if you have any money lying around, because you must be a stupid rich person and I’m simply tired of it. They have Zero frame of reference for cash and don’t know how to handle it, as can be seen in most homes were a 45” flat screen TV sits but the toilet has been non functional for two years, so to ask ‘how much’ is complicated and ridiculous.

To rant any further is depressing and tiring and while this is surely a decent place with a government that makes a notable effort for its people the complicated problem of extremely poor productivity, seen in a couple of factories and plantations so far plus a general attitude, means a very unsustainable future for Cubans. If you were to ask me right now if I would return again to Cuba I would say, “No.” Other than being very safe, there is for me right now, not another thing in Cuba that you cannot find elsewhere for better value and service. Sorry Cuba, this is your doing nobody else’s. 

Deya and I are currently talking about trying to change our somewhat defeated mindset, it may be our only choice at this point, I hope it works.

Viva Cuba Libre – First Blush

(Due to slow and expensive internet, pictures and video will be added once we are off the island, Thanks)

A good American friend wrote in response to our email about the cost of Internet services in Cuba saying that for a country that values its people it’s interesting that only the privileged can afford to use the Internet. I recognized the sarcasm right away since this friend has been doing deep calculations on how to best afford medical insurance in the USA. I mentioned what he already knew about the fact that only the privileged get medical in the US and that there are more Americans without any medical than there are Cubans in total. Of course the US blockade makes developing infrastructure and telecommunications extremely difficult in Cuba, which means high demand and low supply, resulting in very high prices. This issue is soon to be resolved by mid next year with a fibre-optic cable to Venezuela. Thanks to a ridiculous 50 year blockade the US has managed to push Cuba closer to the pool of anti US countries, good job eh? Despite this, several US telecommunications companies are currently bidding on contracts in Cuba and its lucrative and mostly untouched market, likely hoping to capitalize on a massive roaming charge market in the meantime. Ultimately I’d rather have low cost medical than cheap Internet.

What we discovered when we got here and began researching the Cuban industry was that the USA is Cuba’s 6th largest trading partner. Cuba spends about double the amount of its very hard earned money in the USA than it does with its oldest diplomatic partner, Canada. In Cuba, many families we have stayed with own their homes and while this is a fairly new development, the Cubans who do not yet own a home live in many cases in very beautiful homes anyways. It’s not unusual to see a flat screen TV, X-BOX ready, with the appropriate video game gear attached. Some things are difficult to get here because of the political situation and after all it is still, after 50 years, an island under siege.

“No es facil” and I would agree, “It’s not easy”. This is a pretty common statement in Cuba but it’s the same kind of statement a Canadian might make about trying to pay the taxes, living paycheque to paycheque or slipping and sliding their way to a 10-12 hour day at work in the middle of winter. The fact is life can be tough anywhere and I know a lot of people from Canada who might seem rich here but are actually two paycheques from loosing their place of dwelling. It’s not easy, but the difference here is that Cubans, in my opinion, have little frame of reference and might think, because they would like to have a trip to Disneyland, an iPod or Bill Gate’s yacht, they are missing out on something.

Well, some are missing out but then so am I. Cubans seem to compare their existence to that of North Americans and Europeans. This is good because they have a pretty high standard but what they should be doing is recognizing that they are a Caribbean island and at best they should compare themselves to the other Caribbean islands and Central America which might help to realize that they are so much better off than their neighbours. What gives them the freedom to be concerned about their plight is just that, freedom. A place to live, good education, good health care, enough food and other social initiatives. You hear that the average wage is 30 dollars a month but when all the other things are covered then the worst a Cuban can do is: enjoy the weather, beach, relaxing, food, comfortable home, time with friends, learning, music, art, etc. I think you get the idea but Cubans take this for granted. Next time you’re paying your rent or mortgage and your boss is yelling at you about performance and wondering what you would lose if you quit your job, think about the poor Cubans sitting on their porch wondering about a new cell phone. I may have just simplified a complicated problem but the two truths are that Cubans generally have less opportunity compared to Canadians but also don’t have the same risk of total loss. I guess I’m glad to be able to choose.

For us, this is one of the safest and most civilized countries we have been in. With two million people in Havana I can walk with my wife around at night, no hard core drugs, no knives, no guns, no problem. Some one might try to get you to buy something you don’t need because you have more money than them. Try strolling in any big cities through the Americas, just try it and tell me if you don’t get a little sketched out. One of the biggest things that Deya and I have faced as we travel through the Americas is safety. This has been an incredible oversight coming from a very safe country but now we understand that safety should come first because without it nothing else really matters. In Afghanistan, there isn’t much use in building a school when your children will be blown up by attending it, security first.

I started this chapter with a rant because Cuba is truly an amazing and interesting place, piece of history, social experiment and a gem. This is one country that, if it is very careful and intelligent, will be an island of excellence and being Cuban will be seen as a privilege. One cautious observation we’ve noticed is that Cubans don’t know how to handle money, like a regular Joe winning the lottery, all money can be lost in a season. Those who think Cuba should just open up to the free market like a turkey on Thanksgiving obviously couldn’t care less about the Cuban people. If Cuba is greedy it will end up like any other drug infested socially disrupted piece of the supply and demand matrix. Let’s hope Cubans can move forward down a path of premeditation and caution for all our sakes.

Entering Cuba by boat
You would think it would be hard to do but in reality “It’s not easy”. The Cuban government has very organized and established systems which are not unlike any other organized government. But like many other governments we have dealt with, as well as companies, the system is plagued with inefficiencies and waste. It has been our opinion that it has less to do with the government and more to do with the complacent and lazy attitude of the highly educated people doing the jobs. This is a very interesting and complicated problem but of course realigning systems to create better performance is clearly needed here.

We docked at a nice little port in Cienfuegos and waited for the officials to clear us and our bikes, it would take days and the Captain was kind enough to host us during the wait. The search of the boat involves dogs and many officers. They dig through everything, open every bag and sniff about. Finally a real search! I thought for sure we would get a thorough go about at some border but it was finally Cuba that cared enough about us to open my water bottle to take a sniff. It was a good experience and later that night the Cuban security guys came back to have some beers on the boat with us.

Turns out, as the dog handler told us, that in Santa Clara there is a show and shine for Motorbikes and the Harley Davidson Club would be there. They asked how fast our bikes would go, I told them with the right tyres and unloaded I could probably get up to 180-200 kilometres per hour. Well, they started jumping up and down saying they want to bet on us for the 1 km sprint because there are no bikes on the island that can do over 150! I had a good laugh but they were dead serious with dollar signs and the big win on their minds. Good times.

Cienfuegos is a beautiful city with a relaxed pace. We’ll go back and spend some time near there as it seemed like a nice place to hang out. As soon as we could leave we wasted no time getting out and heading towards La Habana. I was smiling and happy, struggling to keep myself calm as it had been over 6 weeks since I had last ridden Chuleta. I wasn’t sure how much strength I’d have to ride or what I’d encounter on this island and with my busted bones. We followed Frank and Petra through sun and heavy rain stopping a few times for a picture or a snack. I’m impressed with how checked out those two are. They really have their gear sorted out and look much more organized than Deya and I.

On the route we stopped for some lunch of rice and chicken with a beverage for about $1.2 CND for two, nice. We noticed that as we traveled we pretty much disrupted everything and people and cars stopped to stare; motorcycles like ours are extremely rare here, this was going to be interesting. We saw military convoys and they saw us, waving and swerving slightly to get a look as we rode by. We were pulled over by the police so the guy could look at us and say, “Wow” and comment on our cool helmets. Roli had told us that the best places in Cuba are in between the cities. I’m tending to agree with his assessment, though the cities are very nice.

Generally the road conditions are average to good. In the cities you have to watch out for missing manhole covers and a lot of oil at intersections, especially when it rains. This makes navigating cautious but fortunately we’re used to that kind of thing in Latin America. Havana (La Habana) is pretty easy to get around and the traffic is always pretty light. I’ve heard it might be one of the nicest cities in the Americas and I’m inclined to agree, it is a beautiful city, Deya and I enjoy just walking around it.

We followed our friends to where they were staying, we ended up nearby at a residential home. Cubans get business licenses to rent rooms or suites in their homes and this is a good experience for the most part. Typical cost for a room is 20-30 CUC a night. One CUC is roughly equivalent to 1 Canadian dollar. It seems high but the owner needs to pay the monthly licensing fee of 150 CUC so if you stay a month the price goes down because their cost is covered. The best thing about this kind of lodging is you get to know the Cuban families and learn about their lives. You also get to know a little about the culture and mindset of people and that’s really something. Perspective and perception is a very subtle yet strong influence. Ironically, Cubans are well educated and can speak to you at any level but because of their environment or maybe because they live on an island they tend to speak at you and really don’t make much attempt to listen to what you are saying.

Our first few days were very interesting, we stayed with an artist who travels to Germany for a few months every year to exhibit his work. He says if he wants he could stay to work and live in Europe but then started to explain the wages in Germany, the cost of living and had a clear understanding of the difficulties of living in a ‘Western’ country. He said simply that he prefers the ease and security of living in Cuba and the surety of his daily life and lifestyle. Touché friend, I’m very proud of Canada and would prefer it over anything but I can see how you might be content here. By the way, nice video game consol and 30” flat screen LCD. I’m jealous.

Deya and I had in our mission to visit the hospital to get information about my busted bones. Day one in the International Hospital (Cira Garcia) was loaded with smart people with poor attitudes. After an hour of the run around Deya was done and when the final lady at the reception, with pen in the right hand and note pad in the left, told Deya she didn’t have time to right down the prices of the three x-rays we needed, Deya blew up. Some yelling and the boss came in to sort it out. The boss ended up helping us out and we ended up staying another two hours to help out a young American guy named Mike who was in pain. While I’m sure the hospital is very good, as the reputation suggests, it was again the people who would literally ignore you or say, “I’m too busy, go wait somewhere until I’m done.” Since they are never done you go ask someone else who says, “That’s not my job go somewhere else” or “I finish work in an hour, come back tomorrow.” You can imagine how that doesn’t work well with us.

Of course it’s not the first time we have had to start jacking people up in Cuba and I imagine it will not be the last. The idea that this is how it works is crap because this is not how it works and with a little research you find quickly that the systems are robust but lazy people seem to be sitting on the ‘GO’ buttons. There seems to be a huge contrast between people on the street and people at work. On their own time people are fantastic, on the company’s time they are noisy, uneducated and rude, generally speaking of course. Don’t mean to rant again but we’ll eventually visit the Ministry of Tourism to discuss why they don’t like tourists much, see how that goes.

Another thing we did, which I want to briefly mention was to visit the Canadian Embassy and then attended a BBQ and Beer event. Before you enter the Embassy they check your passport, once verified they let you in the gate, no questions asked. Then they search for contraband, once you are done and ready to go inside they might say something like, “Welcome Home.” I’ve heard this before and I can’t quite describe what that feels like but it sets a tone for the visit and helps one to be fiercely proud of your country’s efforts. Deya decided we should stop by the Mexican Embassy to see if they have any Taco and Tequila events. We got there and they treated her more like a criminal than a citizen, she’s probably the first actual Mexican to visit the Embassy in years since the rest were Cubans trying to get visas and everything seemed to be about problems. She had a little cry outside and said she felt like tearing up her passport and throwing it at them. I know she’s proud to be Canadian but I think deep down she wishes she could be more proud of her native land, tough luck I guess. I’m a cold hearted bastard because I can be and for that I’m grateful to be Canadian.

Finally the results of the visit to the International Hospital, three X-rays and a consultation = 100 CUC. I haven’t made a decision yet but If I choose to get surgery done to replace the absent ligament connecting the collar bone to the shoulder, it will cost about 3800 CUC including 10 days in a private room with full support, spare bed for the wife at an extra cost, three meals a day and check ups.

One of the difficult things to do in Cuba is finding cash. Any credit cards or debit cards that route into or through the USA will not work. There are not an abundance of places to get cash either so when you find it you need to get a wad.
We also had an experience with the difference between being a tourist and a Cuban. We had ice cream in the Cuban side of the fence, they made Deya show her Cuban pesos before we could enter to have a bowl, it cost about 0.20 CUC. Then we went over the fence to the tourist side to see what the same bowl of ice cream costs, 3.9 CUC. Wow!
The toll road en route to Varadero was the same thing, 0.09 CUC for a Cuban or 2.0 CUC for a tourist, which only helped us to find really cool back roads. The markets are about the same but less distinction since tourists never really go there. The cost of food, however limited the variety, is incredibly cheap and we can get a few days of groceries for a couple of bucks. Cubans here have not yet learned how to overcharge a tourist though some might try.

After a week in La Habana we headed to Varadero where we will meet my parents for the Christmas season, returning to Havana in the New Year or heading West to explore, we’ll see.

The long road to Cuba

(Due to slow and expensive internet, pictures and video will be added once we are off the island, Thanks)

Back in the truck with Carlos, we contacted Ludwig and he said they were delayed due to weather; we now had a full day extra to clear Customs and load onto the boat. With Carlos we felt sure that he would get us there in one piece, the biggest part being the piece of mind. The route to Medellin was fraught with destruction and delays but this time, Medellin to Cartagena, the weather was fair and the driving easy. Once we arrived at Cartagena we unloaded the bikes at the dock, had lunch with Carlos and thanked him again for making it happen for us then headed for the Customs office. I’m not sure I could overstate just how helpful his service was for us at this point in our struggle.

Arriving at Customs was old hat but it seemed they expected us and were ready to clear us right away. Turns out the other four bikers boarding the Stahlratte were already there and the agent would be taking Deya and I to the dock to inspect the bikes. This was a smooth process, thanks for the folks that crossed their fingers for us! Loading the bikes into the dingy is always exciting but doubly exciting when I’m not able to help much due to the busted up arm and shoulder.

With the bikes loaded and wrapped for the Seven day journey we boarded for the night, a few logistical details detained the boat for another day before we could head for sea so we entertained ourselves with food and new company. This boat ride would be nice for a few reasons: older more mature crowd, the infamous ‘Roli’ as first mate, and five bikers aboard. The awesome part would be the experience of sailing 750 nautical miles over depths of 5000 metres with nothing but wind and sea splashing about. The tough part would be sailing 750 nautical miles with nothing but wind and sea splashing about. I expected the worst and in my somewhat dilapidated condition I was confident I’d get it.

We set off, with the guests and crew on board we were comprised mostly of German speakers: Roli with his parents and a couple friends from Austria and an associate member, the Captain with his wife and brother-in-law (Vicente), a young German girl (Milena), our newest riding buddies Frank and Petra from Germany who we constantly competed with for who had the coolest kit (and lost), leaving just one Australian (Two bowl Max), Merlin from the USA with a KTM, Janet the other Canadian who seemed to arrive with sea legs and took care of us, Deya and I.

Our route was to sail from Cartagena towards Santa Marta (East) before changing our heading to make a B-line between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica straight into Cienfuegos, Cuba. The detour towards Santa Marta was to get a good angle against the winds so we could ride the sails all the way there. The first two days would be under power after that the rest was intended to be under sail. It was Vicente’s first voyage; he was intending to help out on the boat but was totally destroyed with sea sickness as soon as we were under way. At one point I went looking for him thinking that maybe he went overboard, fortunately he had not but he might have wanted too. At least three days he laid flat, didn’t drink or eat or move, poor kid.

The Stahlratte is by far the best boat for hauling the bikes but for the captain and crew it’s also a big boat that needs many hands to be efficient. This is tough when you have a bunch of untrained amateurs on board. I, of course, wanted to jump in on everything but simply couldn’t without risking my ability to ride in Cuba later, besides I’m one of the untrained amateurs and Deya kept yelling at me to get back inside, or else! Once we made our heading adjustment the sails went up. It comprised a lot of people gaggling around wondering what ropes to pull on during the German commands and what the heck the German commands were.

The net result was losing the forward sail (Jib?) when someone released a line. There was a lot of confusion, the crew couldn’t see the sail from their positions and when the line was released a thunderous crack occurred as the sheet snapped tearing the line out. Despite that the other five sails were up, but as Roli explained that one sail could have given us an extra knot, and that’s no joke when you are averaging 5-6 knots.

Finally under sail! The effect is fantastic, mostly because by now half of the passengers were feeling a little green, because the sails steady the boat by canting it to one side. Instead of rotating around in all kinds on directions the boat just ploughs up and down on its bearing. Despite the reprieve I got sick immediately taking very little time to start puking my guts out. Not the first one on board to hurl but certainly in competition.

Sea sickness is extremely draining and my injuries didn’t make it any better. When on board you cannot walk in a straight line and must always hold onto something. Often times you find yourself at a full run towards a wall or the side of the ship and you need to grab something or at least hit a wall with some grace. I, of course, could do neither and when attempting just created a load of pain. Always remembering that when someone goes overboard you have to shout continuously and point at them never losing sight of the person in the waves and even at that there is only a 20% chance of recovering the person. Sleeping was barely an option, eating didn’t work though the food was fantastic and the pain in my broken parts just increased. I was mostly useless.

I had the evening watch, which was better than mulling about the boat during the day like a zombie. At night and under sail the ocean is a magical place, quite and solemn. The beauty of the sky and the stars are remarkable and under sail with the boat lurching in the swells I didn’t feel as bad as during the day. Some nights I would stay up for 2-3 four hour shifts just to take advantage of the calmer seas and cooler temperatures. It’s a time to reflect and watch for cargo ships bearing down on you. I always thought that being out in the middle of the ocean, huge waves pushing the boat around in the darkness, might stir some kind of untouched fear in my mind but there was none. It almost makes you feel like a sailor but I know the truth, I am meant for the land.

We had some fun catching fish, unfortunately no Tuna, and saw a host of other sea life like dolphins and flying fish which were remarkable. I heard whales along side the boat during the nights on watch but never saw which kind. The last few days were much calmer and all the passengers had developed a bit of sea legs, moving about the boat easier and without sickness.

Despite the improvements we ended up having to repair several of the sails due to rips and damage from the wind. At one point in the middle of the night a squall of high wind and rain suddenly hit us from the starboard side propelling us from about 5 knots to 9.5 for about two minutes. Very Exciting! The boat was like a rocket, solid and canted hard to one side; I thought the bikes would dip into the water. The ride was the smoothest and most impressive bit of the whole route, I was excited. Just afterwards though, the wind completely died and we lost course having to start the engine in dead wind. The moments before the wind was completely exhausted, it seemed to spin around the boat snapping the sails badly. The fisherman became torn. The captain would be doing a lot of sewing during this voyage.

Dinner on the Stahlratte is always a delight and we we’re able to enjoy some good ones in the beginning and towards the end of the voyage. At one point while working in the kitchen, just as we were departing Cartagena Merlin comes running into the kitchen and grabs a huge knife shouting, “COMING THROUHG, KNIFE IN HAND!” placing the knife in his teeth he disappears climbing the stairs to the top deck. A little shocked I stepped out to see what the commotion on the boat was and I was suddenly faced by Roli yelling, “GET ON THE DOCK AND GRAB THE FORWARD LINE!” Roli is a big dude (2 meters tall or 6’6”), I obeyed immediately and suddenly found myself up on the Container Port with Frank. Trouble was I could barely manage the big rope feeling the shoulder and wrist burn as I wrenched hard to get the line around the securing point. This would happen again in Cuba, me and Frank stuck on the dock looking at each other saying, “How the hell did we end up here?” Good times.
We had come along side the container port to load a 260 kilograms cylinder head as a replacement part for an old one. Two bowl Max, known for his ability to stuff his face during the whole journey and during the worst swells, came out to help and just about got crushed as he wandered in front of the heavy crate about to swing out over the boat. I yelled at him and at least three other voices screamed at the possible danger. Max disappeared into the bowels of the boat.

Max is a harmless and friendly guy to have around and made for some good entertainment, annoyance and real concern. I think Max might be cursed with a bit of clumsiness, knowing this Max avoided many of the occasions to work on the boat. When he tried to help the metal coffee filters went over board, people yelled, things broke and though he was by far the healthiest passenger from start to finish he ended with his last day badly injured. Helping out with food prep Max tripped, burning a baseball size wound into his calf from a hot pipe and splitting his elbow wide open exposing the bone and tendons. Poor Max, and on the first night in the Port of Cienfuegos, he and Milena (German girl) managed to stay up all night drinking, puking, swearing and generally not impressing the rest of the people around the port. I laughed, I thought it was funny.

The port of Cienfuegos is beautiful, some say the most beautiful port in the Caribbean and I imaging it might be. A huge bay with a tight inlet means any size vessel could weather a bad storm. Surrounded by forest and beautiful colonial homes it is picturesque, friendly waves and greetings as we entered you get a feeling that the people who live there are lucky as they sit relaxing on their porches on the waterfront. As a final note on the Stahlratte, it’s a great way to go, the best boat in this part of the sea for moving bikes and I’m grateful to Captain Ludwig for getting us from port to port safely and in good humour. Special thanks from the bikes too, they did well on board.

Border details compliments of Deya III

Names of border crossings.
Peru (exit)-Santa Rosa
Chile (entry)-Chacalluta
Chile (exit)-Paso Los Libertadores
Argentina (entry)-Paso Los Libertadores
Argentina (exit)-La Quiaca
Bolivia (entry)-Villazon
Bolivia (exit)-Kasani
Peru (entry)-Kasani Puno
Peru (exit)- Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chavez (Brian+Deya) & Puerto Maritimo El Callao (Chuleta+Hope).
Colombia (entry)-Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado (Bogota Colombia), Aeropuerto Internacional Jose Maria Cordova de Medellin Colombia (Brian+Deya) & Puerto Maritimo de Buenaventura (Chuleta+Hope).
Colombia (exit)-Cartagena

Exiting Peru.
Simpler than you may think, just don’t come to this border in a Saturday as I was told; a lot of people from Chile come to Peru to the Free Zone and it is chaos.

It looks like Peru and Chile work together to keep this border to the minimum chaos. Here is why.

First you need to get a form called “Relacion de Pasajeros”, which can be obtained in any library at the nearest town Tacna or at the border for free, next to the Immigration office where I had to fill out a list once I received the form with some basic information about myself and about the vehicle. Some people are trying to sell this form but you should not have to buy it.

-Original passport.
-Andean Migration Card.
-Relacion de Pasajeros form.
-Zero fees are charged.

You fill out the Relacion de Pasajeros form and along with your passport you take it to the Immigration desk. A stamp is obtained in both and they also ask for the Andean Migration Card we got at the entrance, they keep it.

This happens at the second booth, the one exiting the parking lot. An official comes and requires the following:
-Passport: original.
-Permit of entry to Peru for the vehicle: original.
-Relacion de Pasajeros form.

With these requirements the permit is cancelled and they keep the cancelled permit giving you back a stamped piece that detaches from the permit to prove you have exited the vehicle. A second stamp is provided in the Relacion de Pasajeros to be checked at the last booth where you finally exit Peru and continue on with Chile where you will deal again with this form Relacion de Pasajeros.

Worth mentioning that this border in Peru has an ATM machine and it looks organized and clean…

Entering Chile.
This is the first border where you do not find anything but business. I was hoping to find a street vendor with “habas” (a snack I like), but nothing… However, it is awesome.

Workers from PDI (Policia de Investigaciones de Chile) take care of this area.
-Original passport. A stamp of entry is provided.
-Tarjeta Internacional Entrada Salida. It needs to be filled out and just to make sure it will be safe staple it to your passport. You will need to return it at the exit point.
-Relacion de pasajeros where you will get another stamp.
-Zero fees are charged.

A tourist gets a total of 90 days with possible extensions.

Before you can actually do Customs here it is what you have to do.
Fill out a Declaracion Jurada/Affidavit: this needs to be filled out to report what you are bringing in. It is strictly prohibited to bring in vegetables, fruits, honey, non treated animal skin, archaeological pieces or drugs (for those who like to travel with coca leaves, “altitude related”…) among others. In the back of this document you can read what you can and cannot bring in. They took away all my veggies, we ate the fruits and I had to leave behind my honey… of course I reported all these items; whether you report anything or not they will check and the dogs find what the officials are looking for, I can tell you that. They also check your luggage through an X-Ray machine.

After all this you go to a booth where Customs will give you a document to bring the vehicle in with the following documents:
-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original.
-Relacion de pasajeros where you will get another stamp.
-Zero fees are charged.
-No insurance for the vehicle is available, no photocopies are involved… unbelievable, I was starting to think that this is a MUST.

As well as Immigration we were given 90 days permit. A document is produced called “Titulo de Importacion Temporal de Vehiculos”.

You can now start travelling through the boring North part of Chile. One thing that did not happen is any physical inspection but I guess their system is based on trust and I like that.

What happened to the Relacion de Pasajeros?, well… with the two stamps from Peru and the two stamps from Chile you are set but this document is delivered in the final booth before you enter Chile. I was told that this document is managed by both countries to try to avoid illegal importation of vehicles, which seems to be common in this border.

Exiting Chile. Entering Argentina.
After the 29 curves going from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza you will find a building that looks like Immigration and Customs but it is not, it is only used for traffic coming from Argentina to Chile. So, continue on. Immediately after you pass a little booth in the right side and later on, kilometres later, you will find another booth in your left where you need to get a piece of scrap paper with your plate number written on and a stamp. Let me tell you by now you are in Argentina without having exited Chile, but do not worry…
About 15 kilometres later there is a building called “Control Integrado” which means that Chile and Argentina work together and share resources to control the traffic in that border “Paso Los Libertadores”.
We had to throw all our veggies and fruits again, insanity is called since we keep doing the same thing: coming to borders fully loaded with food; this time I had 5 bananas at once. However no body checks anything.

In the same booth you will process your exit from Chile and your entry to Argentina.
-Original passport.
-Tarjeta Internacional Entrada Salida (the one we got in the entry to Chile is delivered back to Immigration and a new form is filled for Argentina but stays with them).
-Zero fees are charged.

Easy and quick despite the line up we were in for about one hour. Stamps are provided to proof exit from Chile and to proof entry to Argentina (90 days with possible extensions).
Also a stamp is provided in the scrap piece of paper we got earlier, from both countries; you get to keep this scrap paper for the next step.

This happens at another booth. The officials require the following:
-Passport: original.
-Permit of entry to Chile for the vehicle: original.
-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original.
-Zero fees are charged.
-No insurance for the vehicle is available, no photocopies are involved… however we will continue to look into the insurance matter because apparently it is mandatory and even if it is not, it comes down to logic…

The Chilean officer takes the Permit of entry to Chile for the vehicle, cancels it and keeps it. Then the Argentinean officer takes the necessary documents and verifies the information.

Different than Immigration we were given 8 months permit. A document is produced called “Declaracion Jurada/Admision Temporaria Vehiculos de Turistas”.

The scrap piece of paper gets two more stamps from Customs, both countries. You keep that paper again.

You can now start travelling through the rest of Argentina but be careful with the Chilean drivers in Argentina, those are the worse.

The final step is to deliver the scrap piece of paper to a police officer in “Gendarmeria” about 17 kilometres from this building.

Enjoy Argentina!!!

Exiting Argentina. Entering Bolivia.
This border is different than the rest, Customs is done in the same area “Control Integrado” but Immigration for Bolivia is done at the end, once we entered Bolivia.

In the Argentinean side you have to present:
-Original passport.
-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original
-Zero fees are charged.

Easy and quick, a stamp of exit is placed in the passport and a ticket with a number to line up is given to you to go to Customs.

This happens at another booth. The officials require the following:
-Permit of entry to Argentina for the vehicle: original. In other words: “Declaracion Jurada/Admision Temporaria Vehiculos de Turistas”, this document stays with the officer and the appropriate information is entered in the system to indicate the vehicle has left the country.

Now Bolivian’ Customs:
-International Insurance for the vehicle with coverage for Bolivia.
-Passport: original.
-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original.
-Zero fees are charged.

We were given three months permit. A document is produced called “Declaracion Jurada/Ingreso y Salida de Vehiculos Turisticos”.

The problem was that we did not have such International Insurance that we supposed to buy in Chile or Argentina, but these two countries only sell this type of insurance to “Nationals”. We tried to buy it in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia but it is not available to us. The man who works in Customs for Bolivia: Guillermo Chacon, tried to extort us by asking for money or we would not be allowed to enter Bolivia. The previous client paid $50 USD to go through without insurance, a fellow from Argentina who chose not to buy this insurance that is available to him as Argentinean to travel through the rest of South America.
We paid no extortion and this guy found out what an angry Mexican-Canadian looks like, besides Brian got everything on tape and the guy was so stupid that he even posed for the camera.

In the Bolivian side you have to present:
-Original passport.
-Form called: Formulario/Tarjeta Migratoria.
-Zero fees are charged.
A stamp of entry is placed for the length requested, I requested 30 days.

The final step is to show the document “Declaracion Jurada/Ingreso y Salida de Vehiculos Turisticos” to a police officer few steps after Bolivian’ Immigration.

Now Bolivia!!!

Exiting Bolivia.
In this border the Immigration officer liked my whistle and he wanted it but I need it so as soon as I can I will try to send some for him.

-Original passport.
-Form called: Formulario/Tarjeta Migratoria is returned.
-Zero fees are charged.
A stamp of exit is placed.

-Passport: original.
-Permit of entry to Bolivia for the vehicle: original. In other words: “Declaracion Jurada/Ingreso y Salida de Vehiculos Turisticos”, this document stays with the officer and the appropriate information is entered in the system to indicate the vehicle has left the country.
-Zero fees are charged.

I recommend you to take a picture of the document in their hands because they do not enter the information in the system until the end of the day perhaps when they are too drunk to do so. In our case I asked the officer to finish at least Brian’s process so I can learn what happens but I just wanted to have evidence of the case, we do not want to end up paying fines in the future due to the incompetence of people.

Entering Peru.
-Original passport. A stamp of entry is provided.
-Tarjeta Andina de Migracion (Andean Migration Card). It needs to be filled and just to make sure it will be safe staple it to your passport. You will need to return at the exit point.
-Zero fees are charged.
A tourist gets a total of 90 days with possible extensions.

-Passport: original.
-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original.
-International Driver’s Licence: original.
-Insurance for the vehicle (SOAT) is mandatory and you will avoid a lot of hassles with the police if you just get it. It is $35 USD per month per motorcycle; in this border you cannot get the insurance right there so Puno is the closest choice.
-Zero fees are charged.

Photocopies of all documents are taken by Peruvian Customs.

As well as with Immigration we were given 90 days permit. A document is produced called “Certificado de Internacion Temporal”.
The officer let us go without SOAT with the promise to send him an email proving we have purchased it.

This was the most difficult part. As expected by the police in Peru, always fishing. Unfortunately this fish is hard and does not move with the rhythm of the Peruvian sharks. Police in this border has to “ENSURE” that all documents approved by Immigration and Customs are “PROPERLY DONE”. Without SOAT we cannot go into Peru according to the Police but nobody sells the insurance right there and besides we had made an agreement with Customs. Anyway, they tried to ask for money but we simply did not “UNDERSTAND” the request and continued on.
We purchased the SOAT as soon as we got to Puno. In Puno the agency tried to sell the insurance at double of the price we paid before but like I said, hard fish!!!

Exiting Peru.
Our exit from Peru was not as we expected.
We had to travel by plane and the bikes by boat to Colombia due to the accident Brian suffered in Huaraz Peru.

Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez (Brian+Deya) y Puerto Marítimo El Callao (Chuleta+Hope).

-Original passport. A stamp of exit is provided.
-Tarjeta Andina de Migracion (Andean Migration Card) is returned.
-Zero fees are charged.

This part of the process will be specified in Diaries of an injured motorcyclist and Diaries of an injured motorcyclist II (www.encontrandoalanina.blogspot.com).

Entering Colombia.
Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado in Bogotá Colombia to connect later with Aeropuerto Internacional José María Córdova in Medellín Colombia (Brian+Deya) and Puerto Marítimo de Buenaventura (Chuleta+Hope).

-Original passport. A stamp of entry is provided. We were given 30 days.
-Zero fees are charged.

This part of the process will be specified in Diaries of an injured motorcyclist and Diaries of an injured motorcyclist II (www.encontrandoalanina.blogspot.com).

What I can tell you is that travelling by plane is not fun!!!

Exiting Colombia.
-Original passport and a stamp of exit is placed.
This part of the process was done by a Customs Agent of the Captain of the boat we took to Cuba.

We went to the Area of: Grupo Exportación where they asked for some documents.
-Form called: Solicitud de autorización de reexportacion o salida de vehículo de turista.
-Title or Registration of the vehicle: original & copy.
-Passport: original & copy.
-Permit of entry to Colombia for the vehicle: original & copy.

With these requirements the permit is cancelled and a document is created called “Exportaciones Auto y Acta de Inspección”. Finally a Customs Agent does a vehicle inspection to ensure the information in the documents match with the vehicle. This inspection did not really occurred, the Customs Agent took us to the dock and told us that everything was fine so went on board along with the motorcycles.

Deyanira Mendoza Dominguez – Adventure Researcher